I don’t know about you, but all of the Back-to-School hoopla makes me want to do anything but think about school (as a matter of principle, I never start in on our regular fall schedule anywhere near when the public schools do). So what do I think about? Playing games. And not educational ‘games’, either, but just plain fun types of games… because I can.
Our family really enjoys playing games together and we have quite a collection. Of course, we have the usual ones… Monopoly, Life, Scrabble, Candy Land (sigh), and more, but these are not the games I want to tell you about. Now, if your family is big on games, all of this will probably be old news. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments because this will not be a definitive list. But, you are new to playing games as a family; this list may give you some ideas of things to try.
First for the younger set. Let’s just say that Candy Land is not my favorite game to play, though I will occasionally agree to it because my little girls like it. Frankly, there just are not a whole lot of games that little people can play successfully and that don’t stupefy the adult into unconsciousness. At the top of my list is a Haba game called Crafty Badger (or Frechdachs in German). It has little metal suitcases with items of clothing which go inside of them. The dice determines whether you add or remove what is in a suitcase and the little wooden badger can come and upset the whole thing. It’s easy enough for non-readers and often doesn’t take too, too long to play. Plus it’s kind of fun opening and closing the little suitcases. Chubby Cheeks is another Haba game that I don’t mind playing with the littles, though it has quite a few little pieces which can be too easily lost. Your hamster moves around the board and collects the food that is on the spaces. I really like Haba games for this age, but two other non-Haba games that my youngest have enjoyed include Diggety Dog (with little dogs which magnetically pick-up bones to see if the colors match) and Penguin Pile-up (which has a tipping iceberg that the little penguins are balanced on).
The possibilities become a little endless once the children are older and can read a bit. (Breathe a collective sigh of relief here with me.) First there are the card games. You all know about these, I’m sure… Blink, Dutch Blitz, and Pit. Plus we’ve also really liked There’s a Moose in the House and Loot by Gamewright. (Actually, we’ve liked quite of few of Gamewright’s card games.)
And then there are the board games.
We love playing Settlers of Catan. (I know many people have heard of this already.) Essentially each player is a settler on an island and they use and trade resources in order to build settlements. The game board is laid out in tiles and is different each game. If you really like it, there are expansion sets which can add pirates or seafarers or traders to the game.
Another game that we have really had fun with is Ticket to Ride. My grade school aged children have particularly enjoyed it. The goal is to build as many rail lines as possible, collecting points as you go. What I like about it is that it has just enough of a luck aspect to it that my children can beat me honestly. It is a fairly short game, often lasting only 30 minutes or so. I have a couple of boys who are really anxious to try the other versions on other continents.
Mister X by Ravensburger is a newer one for us that has enjoyed some play this summer. It is actually the sequel to a game called Scotland Yard which I felt had some design problems with how it was played. A game that proves to be too frustrating is not a whole lot of fun. But with Mister X the design problems seem to have been solved and it is a much more enjoyable game. One player is Mister X, a master criminal on the run from the detectives, played by the other players. They need to work cooperatively in order to be able to locate Mister X before the end of the game.
Moving into some more collaborative games brings us to Forbidden Island. Instead of the players playing against each other, they are playing together against the game. There are tasks which must be completed before the island sinks. I am a pretty competitive person, so I was a little unsure of the cooperative aspect of the game at first. But there is still the winning and losing piece, it’s just that the players win or lose together. We have had this one for several years and I see it out on a fairly regular basis.
[Before I describe the next game, please be aware that we have a pretty loose policy on fantasy in our home. I know other homes have different standards and so please check the games out in advance, especially the next one, to be sure it is something that is right for your family.]
The last game I want to mention is called Mice and Mystics. It is also a collaborative game which the players must work together to beat the game. If you have a child in your home who loves stories, particularly long and involved stories then this game might be worth looking into. My parents brought this game as a gift when they visited last month. One of my 10 year old sons played it nearly non-stop for the first week, he was so taken with it. What is unusual about it is that there is a story with goes along with each part of the game. The players are mice characters in the story with certain tasks that must be accomplished… rats to vanquish, mice to rescue, etc. The game board is constantly changing and it looks as though there is a lot to keep people interested. One benefit is that it can be played solitaire as well as with several other people. And who plays the game can change with each round. Be warned it is a very long game, particularly if you want to play each chapter one after the other. It would be good if there was a spot where it could remain set-up for the duration of the game.
I know that there are so many other games out there and that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have left off others that we love and play often, but the maximum word count beckons. Please share your favorites in the comments. I am always interested in new games, particularly unusual ones that don’t stock regular toy store shelves.
Elizabeth Curry is on year 15 of homeschooling. Nine are still at home and her oldest is off to college. Devoted bookworms all, it’s not surprising that much of the learning that happens centers around whatever chapter book is being read. When she isn’t taking care of children or reading, she enjoys sewing, cooking, and writing. Her life of following Jesus with many children in the Big, Ugly House is chronicled at www.ordinary-time.blogspot.com .